This confident, elegant drawing by Pompeo Batoni is preparatory for the canvas Philosophy Reigning over the Arts (Hermitage Museum, GE3734) and can be dated to 1745-7. The canvas has been paired with Time Revealing Truth a painting now in the Rhode Island School of Design (59.065) which acquired it in 1959, when Anthony Clark was still engaged as secretary to the museum and director of publications. In the same year Clark published both paintings in his first Burlington Magazine article and his first study of Pompeo Batoni.
Philosophy Reigning over the Arts is now in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg having entered the collection of Prince Alexander Bezborodko (1747–1799) at some point in the 18th century. The subject which ultimately derives from Plato’s Laws and more recently Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia shows Mercury overseeing the crowning of Philosophy, depicted here as a demure young woman, with a laurel wreath.
At her feet, attributes of the Arts lie, pushed aside and ignored. This drawing is preparatory for the figure of Mercury who gestures at Philosophy, holding his caduceus in his right hand while pointing to her laurel crown with his left. Mercury is a figure sometimes associated with the art trade and his prominent position in this composition may be an allusion to the recognition of the importance of the art trade in 18th-century Rome. The muscular young god appears exactly in the drawing as in the painting and details such as the left foot tucked in behind the right calf demonstrate Batoni’s effortless skill at depicting a harmonious pose. The entirely natural depiction of a complex idea and the ease with which the artist marshals the attributes, gods and personifications compellingly rebuts Michael Levey’s characterization of Batoni as ‘birdbrained’ and shows him, instead, to be a highly sophisticated artist catering to an equally well-educated clientele.
The painting is dated 1747 and the drawing, squared for enlargement to the eventual canvas as was Batoni’s habit, must be a late stage in the artistic process. The drawing once formed part of the Galippe Album, a collection of Roman drawings mainly by Batoni and Mengs, which were dispersed in Amsterdam in 1923 and 1924.❖